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Clock Sparrer

November 16, 2009

What time is it? Is it 4:07 or ‘just after four’? Now there’s a clock that tells you the time the way you might tell it to someone else. Cut out the middleman. It frees up entire milliseconds of your time and whatever is smaller than kilobytes in your brain to devote to looking at hot new Tumblr blogs. Fancy that! Also, want! Although since this is the sort of thing you can only buy if you are not also the sort of person who covers every available surface with bric a brac, there is a practical reason I can’t have it. But anyway.

Sander Mulder’s clock rolls around on your desk like it’s Saturday afternoon. It’s not quite ‘stoner houseguest’, at which point it would answer a question with a question. What time is it? I dunno, like, two? No, asshole, it’s six, and you’ve been asleep all afternoon, and it’s too late to go job-hunting like you promised. Sorry, dude, my bad. Such a clock would be less than useful when it came to telling the time, but it would be great at, uh, winding you up.

Sander Mulder: About Time

In case that’s not awesome enough for you, check out another one of Mulder’s clocks, called ‘Continue Time’.

And if that’s still not awesome enough for you, maybe you should go do some drugs. Just stay off my couch.


The Crayon Village: I Want To Go To There

November 14, 2009

I came across a piece about this in the Utne Reader, just as I was about to not renew my subscription, and now I am rethinking it. This new issue blew my tiny mind, and I was going to cut back on magazines, I swear, but now the world is conspiring to keep me from giving up any of them.

Anyway, In 1990, the town of Correggio in northern Italy decided to plan a new development, and since it was for families, they figured they’d give the kids a say. Kids are affected at least as much as adults by the quality of the landscape and streetscape they live in, and besides, since they eventually become adults, happy kids grow up to be adults who had happy childhoods, and the world sucks a little less. Kids also know stuff, make the world funnier, and are not hampered by convention in the way that the rest of us are. And kids, who are better than we are at having fun, had to live there, too, so why not make it fun for them? When you make a place kid-friendly you pretty much make it everybody-friendly.


Right angles are for suckas.

The village of Coriandoline was also explicitly influenced by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, one of my favourite books ever. The final result is not just a crayon drawing come to life, it’s like a Calvino story told by a child. The kids (and adults) are allowed to play everywhere. And the best part is that the adults like it, too, even the ones without children. By making the village about the inhabitants and not about the habitations, Coriandoline has actually helped people to be happier.

They gave the kids, not just a say, but full membership in the community of ideas that would result in this development. It wasn’t the sort of thing where they handed the kids a finished plan and asked them where they wanted the playground – no, they did it by taking kids seriously. Why not paint your house purple and then put some cool designs on it? Why don’t you have a tower at the top where you can watch for pirates, Bigfoots or dragons? I remember my parents used to scoff at the tacky houses with all their classless Christmas lights and plastic Santas, but not-so-secretly, those were the houses I wanted to live in. Living spaces can and should be fun.

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Goodbye New England’s Monstah Huntah

November 13, 2009

People often make noncommittal awkward comments about my accents, like “It’s very soft,” and I’m not sure what that even means, only that I don’t take offence because none seems to be meant, and that my ‘real’ accent is not at all soft. When I rang Dublin-home from Boston-home last year, I heard the sound of my husband crumpling to the floor with laughter before I had even said anything remotely funny. It’s the opposite of soft. It’s like a thousand Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-drinkin’, Fenway Pahk goin’ haahbahmastahs all shouting at once. Three days in Boston is all it takes, or one hour on the South Shore, which is where I learned to talk, and thus drop my ‘r’s and put them at the ends of words where they don’t belong. I don’t do it on purpose. I do it by design.

I love going to the New England Aquarium because it’s a great melting pot of New England people: medicated yuppie kids sitting glassy-eyed in strollahs, waiting to be engaged or otherwise stimulated, and oddlahs with mullets and teeny-tiny ‘Future Bikini Inspector’ t-shirts, trucking around the place, punching the fuckin’ shahk tank that runs down the centre of the building. “Don’t punch the fuckin’ shaahk, Tylah!”

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, only that because I grew up in a town next to the water, I spent the first few years of my life thinking that this group of animal was called a staaahhfish. Staaaahfish

Last week, a bunch of staaahfish washed up dead on a Sligo beach, a phenomenon that has since been attributed to weather factors, and not a little real-life trailer for 2012, nor a response from beyond about the series of Saturday lunchtime Knock Apparitions.

What I realised is this: every time I see the word ‘starfish’, it takes me a while to figure out how to pronounce it. Same with ‘shark’. And ‘monster hunter’. The words separately are fine, but taken as a phrase, pronouncing the terminal consonants makes me feel like an animal wearing a costume. A lady in a Bigfoot suit. And she’s wicked pissed.

Fuckin’ A.

Which is all a very long way of saying that Robert Rines, who specialised in Nessie-chasing, playing the violin, and patent law, has died at the age of 87. They don’t make monstah huntahs like Rines anymore. I really don’t know much about him, only that his obit tells us he held over 800 patents, which makes the 300 or so held by Nikola Tesla, another well-loved-but-not-sufficiently-appreciated inventor, polymath, and eccentric, seem like small turbines.

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Things to See

November 12, 2009

Check out this WSJ article on compulsive hoarders.

It mentions a novel on the Collyer Brothers, the 20th-century brothers whose house in Harlem was a cautionary tale for those who can’t throw anything out. Homer and Langley Collyer are why I don’t joke so much about my slovenly habits in the home (or don’t joke as much as I otherwise might) because, in fact, being crushed under the weight of one’s own filth is a genuine risk. That, and the fact that while I often like to claim that my domestic ineptitude is a feminist statement, beyond a certain point, I’m not proud. It’s a staggeringly sad story, the two brothers whose connection to the world was so weak, but whose bond with each other was so strong. One brother fed the other brother a hundred oranges a day to try to cure his blindness. I wonder, though, did any fruitseller or greengrocer find it strange that a customer was quite so fond of citrus fruit?

When I was a teenager, I did work experience in a state department of elderly affairs, and I remember being given files to read about self-neglect. It was the first time I’d encountered the idea of old people living alone among piles of newspapers that could potentially crush them. Stacks of papers, through which there was only a path to a small open space that they still used as a contracted living area. It seemed ironic to me that it would be newspapers because here’s this thing that is supposed to bring the world to us, and the buying of which is often a social activity, but for these people, the newspaper was the object through which one could read loneliness and neglect, and who perhaps attempt to compensate for this by hanging onto the paper forever. I always had a little bit of an issue with this being called ‘self-neglect’, since it seemed obvious to me that they’d been badly neglected by others, too. It was a pretty rough thing to learn, that once people stop coming over, you might stop being concerned that there’s someplace for guests to sit down.

This piece from 2003goes into the human impulse to hoard, and extends it back into Ancient Egypt. I’m not sure that I would connect the conditions in the contemporary world that lead to the psychological need to hoard and a religious belief that you could take it with you, but certainly our relationship with stuff has always been more complex than prioritising things with immediate or long-term practical use. I’ve often wondered if archaeology wasn’t a good way to channel my borderline hoarding tendencies. When you’re trawling through stuff, it feels good to save everything. Or at least, for me, there was nothing quite like sitting next to a finds tray and bagging and labelling every busted little object that came out of the ground, then sending it for safekeeping. I’m probably not alone. Archaeological justification for keeping just about everything, or at least considering the keeping of just about everything, is a pretty good way to enable a hoarder.

I remember being at a conference where someone gave a paper that used Freudian analyses on archaeologists, to determine just what sort of particular brainwrong each specialty in the field had. It was done as a half-joke (prehistorian pretty much meant you wanted to touch your own poop), but there was a serious side to it too, in that being the people who put ourselves in charge of the stuff did not make us analysis-proof.

Just don’t make me throw anything out. How will future archaeologists know I had trouble throwing stuff out if you make me throw stuff out? It’s for posterity.


The Collyer Brothers' House in Harlem: 14 Pianos, 25,000 books, the chassis of a Model T

Calling all Victory-Hungry, Glory-Seeking, Naughty-Behaving Attention Whores!

November 12, 2009

Do you have poor table manners? Do you like to shout at people, especially when you are wrong? Do you want to be good, but want to win more? Are you prone to cursing in the company of the delicate? When you lack the required information to answer a question, do you answer, “That’s what she said last night”? Does the inside of your brain sound like a combination of Liveline and a circus that had too much medicine? Do you think what I just said there is something of a tautology? Are you downright awful in an awfully delightful way?

Did you answer “YES” or “YOUR MA” to all or most of those?

Are you on Fox News?

Did you answer “NO” to the above?

Good! (If you answered yes, please click here.)

If we’re all ready, you can click here:

You are cordially invited to mess yourself and others up real bad. If you can’t make the event itself, you can listen to the stories under ‘media’, and eventually, you’ll be able to do and read and see and hear and shudder because of other stuff.


Academic Freebies

November 11, 2009

For November and December, online content at AnthroSource can all be read for free!

Get stuck in. I’ve already bookmarked a whole bunch of it. Want more.

I understand that journals have operating costs and so can’t be free all the time, but (at least in Ireland), it’s difficult to access academic libraries unless you’re on staff or enrolled somewhere as a student, which is something I only found out after I left academia. So you can’t walk in and browse JSTOR in a university library because you can’t get through the door in the first place.

The more of a global reach people’s ideas have, the more barriers seem to spring up, too. Bummer. Not that it was necessarily easy to find a lot of the obscure journals before they went online, the ones I wouldn’t know about and therefore wouldn’t realise I couldn’t access, but still. I just wish it were easier for non-scholars to get our hands on scholarly articles without paying through the nose.

But I’m not going to waste time complaining, when there’s archive-burrowing to be done.

Jedward, Balloon Boy, Blessed-Virgin-Regarders and the First Draft of History

November 10, 2009

I remember during Bush’s presidency (although I try not to), that he would occasionally suggest that it should be up to history to judge him. And I would shout at the television, “But I’m ready now, you f*ckstick!” And I remember someone telling me about an archaeology lecturer who used to ask his students what they thought archaeology was, how old something had to be, and then when they answered in the hundreds or thousands, he would throw a pen into the middle of the floor and say, “That’s archaeology.”

When I was first teaching the stuff, I tried the same thing, but stopped after the first time I accidentally thwacked a student with a pen, which was the firs time I tried it. I quickly removed the use of projectiles from my workshops, but it wasn’t long after that that I stopped emphasising any difference between the contemporary objects I used to make students think (I would either bring in carefully-selected garbage, or objects from my bag, which allowed them to pull the piss out of me and satisfy their curiosity in a controlled setting) and the ‘real’ ancient objects I would later hand to them. Because it didn’t seem to matter to them. The division between past and present is a largely arbitrary and academic one, and real-world people have much more fluid and complex ideas about what is past and what is present.

In a recent BBC Magazine survey, 31% of respondents answered that history begins ‘a second ago’. And 28% believe it was ten years ago, which means that well over half the people surveyed agree, perhaps by default, that journalism is “the first rough draft of history”, that while awareness of experiencing historical moments is nothing new, we’re now not running out of past, we’ve eradicated the present. No wonder we feel anxious all the time. But that said, I’m all for it. I’m all for feeling a responsibility for what we say and do, and what we prioritise, and that no matter how hilarious it is to follow the ever-increasing exponentially crazy-bananas Balloon Boy family, it’s never too soon to worry about why we’re doing it. Do we want Balloon Boy in our history books?

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